Texans deserve better

Hard freeze warning map courtesy of the National Weather Service. UP graphic by Olivia Malick

Note: This article was originally published for The University Press.

People deserve to have power in the dark, heat in the cold and water to bathe with, cook with and drink. These things are not luxuries, they are necessities that we pay for.

Yet, as I write this, at least half a million people in Texas don’t have power and more than 14 million people are under a boil water notice.

This is due to the multi-day winter storm that hit Texas and caused the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s independent power grid, to fail. The extreme low temperatures weakened the grid’s power production as more people tried to use it, causing ERCOT to declare a statewide power generation shortfall emergency.

ERCOT ordered rolling blackouts across the state that were slated to last from 10 to 40 minutes but ended up lasting days for some customers. As temperatures dropped below freezing, some Texans were forced to survive with no power and, in some cases, no heat.

This is a complete failure on the part of ERCOT — but also the state government — to ensure that residents will be protected when adverse weather events occur.

ERCOT should have winterized their systems, but they didn’t to cut costs. And now millions of Texans are paying the price for their frugality.

Gov. Greg Abbott should’ve been 100-percent focused on getting residents the resources they need to weather the rest of the storm and to deal with its aftermath, not play a pundit role on Fox News (where he spread lies about frozen wind turbines causing the massive power outages in the state when it was, in fact, failures at natural gas and coal plants).

What Texas needs is leadership, not lip-service by presumptive candidates in order to score points for the next presidential election. We’ll remember what real leadership looks like. For example, former representatives, that aren’t even in office anymore, seemed better equipped to reach out to their fellow Texans and organize help where it was needed without resources from the state or federal government.

Then, to add insult to injury, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz decided to fly to Cancún, Mexico, during his state’s worst power crisis in a decade and a worldwide pandemic that is still raging on. Detailed in family texts given to The New York Times, the senator and his family left Houston to escape their powerless home.

It must be nice. I know myself and millions of others would’ve loved to fly to sunny Cancún, where we could escape the cold and dark and maybe even drink some tap water without having to boil it first — but we couldn’t. And as our representative, Mr. Cruz, you shouldn’t have left. Your constituents are cold, tired and scared. At least 36 people have died, and you have the nerve to turn your back on us? We’ll remember.

I write this grieving once again for my home. Not only for the people we’ve lost to yet another adverse weather event, but for the time we’ve lost waiting around for who knows what, and for the security we always seem to be desperately clinging to.

When it warms up and lights come back on, and the water is safe drink — when the resources start flowing into Texas — we need to remember what has happened here.

We can’t let those responsible off the hook — we need accountability and consequences. When the next election cycle comes around, look at which candidates are loyal to the people of Texas and which candidates are loyal to industry.

There also needs to be mental health resources allocated to affected cities because our communities are suffering under the weight of weather-related trauma.

Throughout this storm, I was reminded of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. We had no power and we were under a boil notice for weeks. I remember getting buckets of water from ditches with my family so that we could flush our toilets then — this time we used melted ice.

The oil lamp that lit my house in the dark, cold hours of the power outage. UP photo by Olivia Malick

As I sat in my house, lit only by an oil lamp, a familiar feeling set in. Isolation.

These storms, whether they be winter or tropical, never fail to isolate communities from the larger world in which they reside. We see people from other states send their thoughts and prayers, but they only do so much. Oftentimes even the people who really do want to help are limited by their own circumstances. Then you have government officials who turn their back on you or just don’t say anything at all.

While we sit alone, in the dark, waiting for the lights to come back on.

We’ll remember.

Olivia Malick, UP editor

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